Students of Vietnamese Heritage: What are Their Academic Experiences in Icelandic Upper Secondary Schools?

Students of Vietnamese Heritage: What are Their Academic Experiences in Icelandic Upper Secondary Schools?

Anh-Dao Tran (School of Education, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland) and Hanna Ragnarsdottir (School of Education, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland)
DOI: 10.4018/IJBIDE.2018070102
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Studies of immigrant students in upper secondary school in Iceland often highlight low attendance rates and early school departure. This article interrogates this view through an exploration of the perspectives of 13 students of Vietnamese heritage in two upper secondary schools. The article mobilizes multicultural education which sees education as inclusive, insisting on valuing diversity and equal opportunity regardless of gender, religion, belief, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, disability, or other statuses. Analysis of interviews shows that students, despite their positive feelings towards their teachers and their belief that their teachers were trying to do their best, understood that they were perceived to be deficient due to their lack of Icelandic language proficiency. Teachers' perceptions were thus limited, and they overlooked the students' academic and heritage resources that could have provided advantages in the learning process and contributed to student motivation and attainment.
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Theoretical Background

We live in a time of accelerated globalization and many social theorists conclude that multiculturalism, driven by a globalized economic system, is now a global norm (Kalantzis & Cope, 1999; Parekh, 2006; Ragnarsdóttir, 2007). As Cope & Kalantzis (1999) articulate: “Global markets, global capital, global communications and global culture play on local diversity as much as they erase it. In every country of the world, cultural and linguistic diversity is emerging as one of the great political issues for the next century” (p. 247). As Ragnarsdóttir put it, Iceland was not “deprived of this development,” (Ragnarsdóttir, 2007, p. 109). A multicultural society calls for an educational system that is inclusive of a diverse student body.

Thus, for making sense of the data that describes the academic experiences of the immigrant students in the two upper secondary schools, the study is situated within the theoretical framework of multicultural education and culturally responsive teaching. Statistics Iceland (2016b) defines individuals whose heritage is Icelandic as having “no foreign heritage.” Individuals with foreign heritage are grouped into four categories. The first category is immigrant: individuals who are born outside of Iceland and have two foreign born parents and four foreign born grandparents. The second category is second generation immigrant: individuals born in Iceland but having two foreign-born parents and four foreign-born grandparents. The third and fourth categories are individuals with one foreign-born parent and at least one foreign-born grand-parent. These individuals can be born in Iceland or abroad.

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